Lectures by Madeleine Dobie and Anna-Louise Milne


Public lectures by Madeleine Dobie (Columbia) and Anna-Louise Milne (ULIP)

Riots and resistance - contemporary francophone perspectives

In certain historical contexts revolt and resistance appear, not as themes or topoi of literature, but as its defining character and mission. In a famous statement of this ideal, Frantz Fanon proclaimed, in Damnés de la terre, that Algerian literature was cutting its mimetic ties with French culture and becoming a “littérature de combat”. For a time, Algeria stood as a worldwide emblem of Third World revolution, a status fortified by Gillo Pontecorvo’s celebrated film, The Battle of Algiers. But the iconography of resistance and insurrection can be used to legitimize abuses of power, as the post-independence history of Algeria amply illustrates. How, in the wake of such abuses, does literature resist? Is the project of revolution abandoned? And do the objects of resistance simply change or does the very concept have to be rethought, along lines suggested by. among others, Michel Foucault, Eve Sedgwick and Jacqueline Rose? In the case of Algeria, one entry point into this question is provided by the current rehabilitation of Albert Camus, a figure in whom (the French) Resistance and resistance (to revolution, to violence, to Algerian independence) converge. Since 2010 several Algerian writers have returned to Camus, both to re-settle scores with the colonial past and to articulate their rejection of an array of forces in contemporary Algerian society. The politics of this rereading are multilayered, involving debates about national and cultural identity and—since novels such as Hamid Grine’s Camus et le narguilé and, especially, Kamel Daoud’s Meursault contre-enquête have won accolades and sold well in France and beyond—the readership or market for francophone Algerian literature and the politics of ‘world literature.’ In the midst of these questions, literary resistance seems both indispensable and difficult to stabilize.

(Madeleine Dobie, Professor, Columbia University)

Fences and Filters: How do we Read Social Unrest Today?

The French language offers the beautifully but alarmingly efficient notion of a ‘grille de lecture’, an interpretative framework or filter through which to bring some order into the chaos of the real. The echo of those other ‘grilles’ or fences that are an increasing feature of the landscape, blocking access, slowing population movements, is not very far away. What can we ascertain from this tight metaphorical relation, and how can we move beyond it by thinking more about what reading can do and in relation to what sort of writing it offers a form of critical purchase? Taking for context the ‘riots’ or ‘urban violence’ – the question of designation will be important – that have marked the very recent past in France, and particularly the period 2005-2015, this lecture will consider the disruption in literary genre that this unrest has exacerbated. Annie Ernaux’s notion of ‘écriture documentaire’ will offer a focus for an exploration that intends to show that we will fail to read contemporary revolt unless we abandon well-entrenched conceptions of narrativity as our frame for reading literature.

(Anna-Louise Milne, Senior Lecturer, University of London, Institute in Paris)

The Cultures of Topology Lecture Series